Research resources

Before starting this project I did review the relevant research to some extent…

I have noticed that when bloggers use the term “research” they tend to mean “looking up stuff on the internet” rather than “uncovering new information”. A lot of the time what is presented as original insight is simply a rehash of old opinions. Ideas gain credence by being repeated, and the perceived authority of a source counts for far more than any concept of objective truth. I could illustrate this by linking to the numerous articles by trusted internet opinion-formers wherein exactly the same point is made, but that would be just too ironic.

I was thinking about this after posting yesterday about the Technorati ranking system. Blogs gain authority by being cited by other bloggers – and bloggers tend to cite the blogs that have authority. Opinions become self-reinforcing, and morph into accepted fact. (For an illustration of this look at the comment section following George Monbiot’s Guardian article debunking the 9/11 conspiracy movie Loose Change).

So when I say I reviewed the “research”, what I mean is that I typed “Second Life” into Google, and read the Wikipedia article that popped up. Most interesting fact? (Of course everything in Wikipedia is fact). That more than 90% of SL user accounts are inactive. It really cheered me up to read that, since it suggests that the vast majority of people prefer to interact with other real humans rather than computer screens. And that means that the 10% who do get really into SL are likely to be quite interesting, from a psychological point of view at least.

If you’re interested in real academic research on online issues, I would recommend the journal Cyberpsychology & Behavior, which is an excellent resource for the latest thinking on online interaction and its impact on real and virtual societies.b

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